New Marketing at Local Hospitals and How It's Grabbing Your Attention

Seattle hospitals and clinics are touting new facilities and programs in an effort to keep themselve

In the midst of health care reform and institutional consolidation, local hospitals and clinics are touting new facilities and programs in an effort to keep themselves current and comprehensive in the eyes of consumers. Undaunted, ELIZABETH M. ECONOMOU sifts through all the messages and provides the perspective to keep your blood pressure in check.

In North Seattle recently, just off Aurora Avenue and across the street from Kmart, a towering Group Health Cooperative billboard advised: the doctor will see you now, or when you say so. The message couldn’t be clearer. As a Group Health patient, you’re in charge. Not the doctor. Not the institution.

At every turn—and by every form of media—hospitals are marketing to consumers the way all consumer-oriented businesses do, jostling for position, trying to get their messages seen and remembered. Where one hospital may extol the merits of a new hyperbaric wound center, another will boast about state-of-the-art robotics, and yet another will tout the easy online access patients have to its doctors. While insurance companies usually dictate where patients go for treatment and services, choosy consumers are doing painstaking research and often going outside their own networks of providers when they can.

When they do, they’re likely to find a dizzying array of messages. “Hospital marketing helps people know what’s available,” says Cassie Sauer, vice president of public affairs for the Washington State Hospital Association. People newly diagnosed with a certain type of cancer can research top-tier oncologists, she says, while a woman having a baby can think about what’s most important to her when she delivers.

Indeed, Annika Andrews, senior vice president and chief operating officer at Northwest Hospital and Medical Center, now a part of University of Washington (UW) Medicine, says consumers are more empowered today than ever before to choose where and how they receive health care. In the Seattle market, Andrews says, hospital marketing helps ensure that people in the community are familiar with the various institutions and with the services they offer. To the surprise of many, though, not all hospitals offer precisely what consumers need.

“Smaller hospitals are unlikely to have the full array of services that the larger medical centers have,” says John Gallagher, director of communication and development for Puget Sound Health Alliance, a regional partnership of employers, physicians, hospitals, patients and health plans committed to improving health care quality and affordability in the region.

“In the case of an emergency, such as a trauma or a heart attack,” Gallagher says, “it is important to get to the nearest hospital [with adequate facilities] as quickly as possible, as time is of the essence.” Sauer adds: “In most emergency situations, the patient is triaged by the emergency medical responders to the closest hospital that can take the case.”

Dr. John Milne, president of the Washington chapter of the American College of Emergency Physicians, says: “Even in the Seattle metro area, most hospitals do not provide every possible service a patient might need....The key is for every hospital to have a fully equipped emergency department where a patient can be rapidly diagnosed, treatment initiated, and the patient transferred to the appropriate location for further care. Sometimes that location is home, sometimes that location is another part of the hospital, and often that location is another hospital.”

At a minimum, says Andrews, all hospitals should offer these services: emergency care; critical care, including an intensive care unit (ICU) and a coronary care unit (CCU); primary care; general surgery; childbirth services; and pulmonary medicine. To let consumers know who has what, hospitals are vigorously touting their specialties and accommodating patients by introducing many new conveniences, such as same-day appointments and electronic health records.

“Health care as we have known it is changing, and hospitals are positioning themselves in the marketplace as any business would—[dealing] with changing times and a need to remain viable,” says Dr. Dale Reisner, a maternal fetal specialist who practices at Swedish Medical Center and Valley Medical Center and is secretary-treasurer of the Washington State Medical Association (WSMA).

Health care reform and the drive to be more consumer oriented are feeding the frenzy, says Lin MacMaster, vice president of marketing at Group Health Cooperative. “Seattle is a very competitive marketplace,” she says. “Hospitals are trying to differentiate on the quality of their doctors. People want the best care for the ‘what if’ moment in their life.”

Swedish, the largest regional nonprofit health care provider in the greater Seattle area, has taken branding via new media to unprecedented heights. Late last summer, a kidney transplant patient, a team of doctors from Swedish and several advocacy-group leaders set out to raise awareness of organ donations by Web streaming from Mount Rainier. Using social media and a profusion of high-tech gear, including a satellite phone, a laptop computer and a solar-powered Web camera, the climbing team conducted an hourlong live video chat to point out that the challenge of climbing a mountain is nothing compared to the daily battle a person waiting for an organ faces.  A few months earlier, a social media team at Swedish reported via Twitter a robot-assisted surgery to promote kidney health awareness. “Our efforts are there to remind people that we’re here,” says Swedish communications director Melissa Tizon.

In that same vein, a team of cardiologists at Overlake Hospital Medical Center in Bellevue has launched a cardiac blog to educate patients about heart disease prevention. And at Seattle Children’s Hospital, Dr. Wendy Sue Swanson, aka Seattle Mama Doc, blogs about motherhood and medicine, and dishes about health tips, vaccine recommendations and hot-button issues, such as protecting children from firearms.

“Traditional advertising is one-dimensional, while social [media] allows us to be more personal, interact, listen, learn and adapt as the world is constantly changing around us,” says Group Health’s MacMaster. “I think there is a downside to not doing smart marketing. You have to look at who your audience is and how they want to be communicated to.”

MacMaster says more than 75 percent of consumers use the Internet when they have a medical question. “We are a society of Yelp,” she says. “We go to see what others have said…what they know that we need to know.” Thus, the Internet has become a mainstay of Group Health’s branding effort. The nonprofit cooperative was an early adopter of electronic medical data, and the Web is the patients’ portal to medical teams and health records. Group Health patients use the Internet to e-mail their doctors, get lab results and make appointments, empowering them to take an active role in their health care.

Still, without actual buildings and facilities, hospitals have very little sizzle to sell. In addition to three hospital campuses in Seattle (First Hill, Cherry Hill and Ballard) and one in Edmonds (Stevens Hospital recently joined the fold), Swedish is set to open a new hospital in the Issaquah Highlands this summer. Phase one will include retail shops and a 12,000-square-foot area called The Commons, where patients can gather and even meditate in “a warm, comforting environment emphasizing natural light, spectacular views and healing gardens.”

In addition to growing by consolidation and expansion, Swedish has an extensive network of primary and specialty care clinics throughout King County, as do UW Medicine, Virginia Mason Medical Center and Group Health. This continuing neighborhood presence, along with the convenience of same-day appointments and electronic access to medical records, is part of the effort to change the medical landscape to make health care more appealing and consumer friendly. But even that isn’t enough.

Locally, for example, Swedish is leading the way in establishing freestanding emergency rooms that aren’t situated inside hospital buildings. Designed to keep waiting times down and consumer appreciation up, these facilities allow patients to bypass the usual triage and registration process that can lead to long delays. Patients needing hospitalization are taken to one of Swedish’s medical facilities or to a nearby hospital. Swedish already has one freestanding ER in Issaquah and will soon open others in Mill Creek and Redmond.

Similarly, Kirkland-based Evergreen Medical Center this spring will open a new Redmond campus that features a freestanding 24-hour emergency department, as well as a new primary and urgent care center in Woodinville.

These efforts to engender customer loyalty are not so much new as they are evolving with the times. Just as bariatric—or weight loss—surgery in the 1990s signaled an acknowledgement by providers of medical care that treatment of obesity had created a new area of opportunity, with diabetes on the rise, hyperbaric healing is now emerging as a core specialty at local hospitals. The Wound Healing Center at Valley General Hospital in Monroe, which opened in 2009, has logged upward of 4,000 patient visits and more than 180,000 minutes of oxygen therapy for conditions such as diabetes-related foot ulcers, as well as carbon monoxide poisoning and tissue damage caused by radiation therapy, says Dr. Jonathan Borjeson, the center’s medical director. Hyperbaric therapy surrounds a patient with high doses of  oxygen, allowing red blood cells to pass more easily into the wound and encouraging healing from the inside out. Other facilities with hyperbaric wound centers include Northwest Hospital and Medical Center, Swedish/Edmonds and Virginia Mason Medical Center, which operates the oldest and largest hyperbaric facility in the region (as many as 18 patients can be treated in the chamber at the same time).

Another feature that hospitals have introduced in recent years is the concept of the medical spa—an extension of a medical center’s dermatology and plastic surgery departments. While most people may not think “hospital” when they think of facials and bikini waxing, the Medi Spa at Virginia Mason’s main campus touts the “clinical quality” of its aestheticians and services, and notes that caring for one’s skin is both an art and a science. Other hospitals with medi-spas in King County are UW Medicine, at its clinic in Shoreline, and Tacoma-based MultiCare, at its clinic in Covington. MultiCare’s spa, called Healthy Reflections, boasts “a fusion of innovative therapies based on medical research and soul-satisfying treatments that indulge you on your path to beauty and wellness.”

The bottom line, it would seem, is making sure consumers feel good about themselves—and their hospitals. As Northwest Hospital’s Andrews says: “It’s about patient benefit.”


Living in a region where cutting-edge technology meshes seamlessly with top-notch medicine and where myriad choices abound, Seattleites are fortunate beyond measure. Still, John Gallagher of the Puget Sound Health Alliance (, a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving health care quality and affordability, cautions that, while many hospitals perform well by certain measures, no single hospital gets everything right. He suggests that patients consult the alliance’s Community Checkup (, a report that consumers can view online and use to gauge hospital performance on a range of services, such as cardiac and surgical care.

“Hospitals look at these measures to see where they can improve, and many [hospitals] share information about promising practices so they can learn from each other,” Gallagher says.

Beyond that, hospital rating services such as HealthGrades (, which allow consumers to assess and compare health care facilities, nursing homes and physicians, can come in handy. The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services operates a similar site, Hospital Compare (

The Washington State Hospital Association ( provides comparative data on the cost of hospital procedures. Listening to friends and neighbors is also worthwhile. “We can market all we want,” says Lin MacMaster of Group Health Cooperative, “but the best tool is word of mouth and making sure hospitals have an infrastructure set up so patients have the best experience possible.”

Additionally, hospital websites are a good source of information on any facility. For a complete list of websites for hospitals in the Puget Sound region, see page 134 or go to and search “hospital websites.”

A guide to websites for hospitals in the region, and major projects recently opened or soon to open.

Allenmore Hospital & Medical Center, Tacoma:

Auburn Regional Medical Center, Auburn:; newly expanded     
Regional Behavioral Health Center opened in 2010

Enumclaw Regional Hospital, Enumclaw: (see St. Elizabeth’s Hospital)
Everett Clinic, Everett:

Evergreen Hospital Medical Center, Kirkland:; new Redmond and Woodinville facilities opening in 2011.

Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center:

Good Samaritan Hospital, Puyallup:

Group Health Cooperative:

Harborview Medical Center:

Harrison Medical Center, Bremerton:; new heart and vascular center opening in 2011.

Highline Medical Center, Burien:; new emergency department opened in 2010.

Kindred Hospital:

Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital & Health Center, Tacoma:; new emergency department in Milgard Pavilion opened in 2010.

Minor & James Medical:

Northwest Hospital & Medical Center:; new Bone & Joint Center of Seattle opened in 2010.

Overlake Hospital Medical Center, Bellevue:; new medical clinic in downtown Bellevue opened in 2010.

Pacific Medical Centers:; new Canyon Park facility opened in Bothell in 2010.

The Polyclinic:

Providence Regional Medical Center, Everett:; new building in north Everett opening in 2011.

St. Clare Hospital, Lakewood:

St. Elizabeth Hospital, Enumclaw (formerly Enumclaw Regional Hospital):; newly remodeled building opening in 2011.

St. Francis Hospital, Federal Way:

St. Joseph Medical Center, Tacoma:

Seattle Cancer Care Alliance:

Seattle Children’s Hospital:; new Bellevue clinic and surgery center opened in 2010.

Stevens Hospital (Swedish Edmonds campus):
Swedish Medical Center:; new Ballard emergency department opened in 2010; new Issaquah hospital opening in 2011.

Tacoma General Hospital, Tacoma:; new emergency department and MultiCare Regional Cancer Center opened in Milgard Pavilion in 2010.

University of Washington Medical Center:; new wing opening in 2011.

VA Puget Sound Healthcare System:; new Community Living Center opened in 2010 in Lakewood; new emergency department building opening in 2011 in Seattle.

Valley General Hospital, Monroe:

Valley Medical Center, Renton:; new Margarita Prentice Trauma Center opened in 2010.

Virginia Mason Medical Center:; Floyd & Delores Jones Pavilion opening in 2011.

Meet the YIMBYs, Seattleites in Support of Housing Density

Meet the YIMBYs, Seattleites in Support of Housing Density

A new movement is saying yes to urban density in all its forms
Ballard homeowner Sara Maxana (with daughter Nani) identifies as a YIMBY, and supports more housing density, including in single-family areas

Sara Maxana is exactly the sort of person you might expect to see getting involved in her neighborhood meetings. A single mom with two young kids, Maxana lives in a single-family 1931 Ballard bungalow of the type many neighborhood activists are fighting to preserve. Ballard, where the population grew 26 percent between 2010 and 2014, is ground zero in Seattle’s density wars, which pit pro-growth advocates, many of them young renters who moved to the city within the last decade, against the longtime homeowners sometimes disparagingly known as NIMBYs, for “not in my backyard.”

What you might find surprising is that Maxana isn’t a NIMBY. She’s one of a growing group of people who say “yes in my backyard,” coining a new acronym: YIMBY.

Maxana, who once worked at the sustainability nonprofit Futurewise, had more or less retired from politics. But she got re-engaged after Mayor Ed Murray proposed the Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (HALA) in 2015. The plan (see sidebar, below), which proposes higher density across the city—including the addition of more backyard cottages and basement apartments in single-family areas—quickly became divisive.

Maxana started identifying as a YIMBY because she felt Seattle decision makers needed to hear a positive story about the changes that are coming to the city. She began speaking up at public meetings, studying the details of HALA and tweeting as @YIMBYmom, a quiet rebuke to those who say all urbanists—i.e., people who believe that cities should be dense, culturally vibrant, diverse places with lots of different transportation options—are single, transient renters with no ties to their community.

By embracing the YIMBY concept, Maxana joins a growing community of activists, researchers, housing experts and community-based organizations that see growth as an opportunity to create housing for all the new people who want to live in cities, rather than a hostile invading force. These groups make up a loosely organized, informal coalition of organizations and individuals across the country and, indeed, the globe (groups using the YIMBY framework have sprung up from Melbourne to Helsinki to Iowa City), who believe that the root of housing affordability is a housing shortage, and that the solution to that shortage is simple: Build more housing.  

Image By: Maria Billorou
Zachary DeWolf at the 12th Avenue Arts Building: trying to make Capitol Hill a place for mansion owners and street people alike

Although they span the political spectrum, from far left social-justice activists to hard-core libertarian free marketeers, YIMBYs generally agree that cities should be accessible and affordable for everyone, whether they own a million-dollar mansion or rent a $900-a-month studio, and whether they work as a barista or just moved to Seattle for a new job at Amazon.

Seattle might not seem the most obvious axis for this pro-density revolution. For one thing, it’s a city where the single-family home, especially the iconic Craftsman bungalow, is sacrosanct. So thoroughly did Seattle embrace the postwar ideal of the detached single-family house with a yard that it’s written into our zoning code, which preserves a remarkable 57 percent of the city’s buildable land exclusively for single-family houses. (In Portland, the number is 3 percent.)

But as more and more people move to Seattle—the city’s long-range plans anticipate 120,000 new residents by 2035—tension between longtime homeowners and renters, many of them relative newcomers to the city, has mounted. Rents in Seattle increased more last year than those in any other big city in the country, and in the past five years, the median rent has increased from just over $1,500 to more than $2,000. Meanwhile, the median income of renters, $47,847, is less than half that of homeowners, $108,768.

Instead of merely complaining about the housing crisis, Maxana says, YIMBYs “see growth as something that can catalyze change and bring about good things for cities.”

“I don’t see YIMBYs as addressing a problem so much as addressing an opportunity,” Maxana says. “We’re not trying to stop things; we’re trying to say yes to change. I think it’s much more exciting to be pushing for a vision than against what’s happening.”

For Maxana, that vision includes more new neighbors, more interesting shops and coffeehouses, more places to walk and bike and ride—in other words, more of all the things that are coming to her Ballard neighborhood already. “In Ballard, we have all these new breweries, and they’re child-friendly and they’re dog-friendly, and there are places to sit outside with your kids,” Maxana says. “I see more people in the parks, on the streets, on the bus. In my neighborhood, I can walk to five bus lines that get me across town to everywhere I could possibly need to go in the city. And all of that activity lends itself to more vibrancy, and just a more interesting place to live.”

Maxana can rattle off the statistics that describe Seattle’s housing crisis—for example, 40 new people and 35 new jobs are added every day, yet only 12 new housing units a day. But she and other YIMBYs argue that statistics don’t change minds; values do. “We cannot convince anybody with the data alone. We have to be speaking about our values and we have to be speaking from our heart—not ‘I feel this way and so should you,’ but ‘I’m a mom in Ballard and I want my kids to be able to live here when they grow up, and ultimately, this is why I support [density].’”

YIMBYs are starting to make waves at city hall. In July, under pressure from YIMBYs and other urbanists who argued that the city needed to do more to include marginalized groups such as renters, immigrants and people of color, Murray announced the city was cutting formal ties with the 13 neighborhood councils that advise the city on growth and development, eliminating their funding and creating a new advisory group to come up with a more inclusive neighborhood outreach strategy. (The neighborhood councils, Murray noted, are dominated by older, white, wealthy homeowners, and are not representative of an increasingly diverse city.)

While the YIMBYs didn’t make this change happen on their own, their support helped provide political cover for Murray and his neighborhood department director, Kathy Nyland (a former Georgetown neighborhood activist who is openly sympathetic to the YIMBY cause), for what turned out to be a controversial move. Many neighborhood activists liked the neighborhood councils as they were.

Some neighborhood groups are starting to move in a YIMBY direction. A Capitol Hill renter and self-identified YIMBY, Zachary DeWolf stepped into a leadership vacuum on the Capitol Hill Community Council in 2014. He was first elected vice president in 2014, and then president in 2015. As president, he restructured a traditional neighborhood group dominated by older homeowners into an organization run almost entirely by young renters.

His goal: to make the group that represents Capitol Hill more welcoming and inclusive. He has encouraged young renters to run for leadership positions; changed the style of the meetings from a traditional format with leaders sitting at a table facing the audience, to a circular roundtable where everyone can participate; and instituted more after-work hours/evening “community conversations” and “socials” to give a wider range of people a chance to get to know each other and discuss neighborhood issues.

The group’s policy emphasis has been different, too. Instead of advocating for anti-urbanist causes, such as banning corner stores in residential areas and placing a moratorium on new micro apartments as it did in the past, the council is discussing how to accommodate a supervised drug-consumption site in the neighborhood. As DeWolf puts it, “Instead of pushing [drug users] out to neighborhoods that are farther out, where there’s less resources and community, why not just keep them here and take care of them ourselves?” He adds, “At the end of the day, every person that’s in our neighborhood—whether it’s someone living in North Capitol Hill in a gajillion-dollar mansion or someone sleeping in the doorway on 15th in front of someone’s business, every type of person is our neighbor. To me, that is very YIMBY.”

Dennis Saxman, a longtime Capitol Hill activist and renter who opposes what he sees as out-of-control development and gentrification in his neighborhood, believes YIMBYs are well-meaning, but that they misunderstand the root causes of Seattle’s affordability crisis. “I don’t think they understand that Seattle was once notable for the strength of its neighborhoods and their differing characters, and that at one time, that was seen as something important to preserve and desirable,” Saxman says. “Now it’s seen as a way to market neighborhoods while at the same time destroying what makes a neighborhood a neighborhood.”

Saxman says he admires a lot of what DeWolf has done to bring new people into the council, but argues that “they’re falling short” when it comes to including more racial minorities, longtime residents and low-income people. “I don’t think they’re authentically community-based,” he says.

Will Seattle’s future look more like DeWolf and Maxana’s vision—an ever denser city, where newcomers and their ideas are welcome—or more like the city of the past, where conversations were dominated by residents resistant to change? That may depend on whether YIMBYs can make the leap from a vocal group of contrarians who provide a counterpoint to conventional wisdom at city hall to a force that helps guide city policy while bringing new allies, including more single-family homeowners, on board.

One sign that yimbys in Seattle are having an impact came last June from 1,300 miles away in Boulder, Colorado. A group of 150 YIMBYs from all over the country convened at an inaugural conference, YIMBY 2016, to talk about their challenges and successes. The Seattle contingent, which included Maxana, Sightline Institute staffer and Capitol Hill renter Serena Larkin, and University District renter and YIMBY activist Laura Bernstein (who tweets at @YIMBYSea), showed up feeling a bit discouraged by local rancor over HALA. But they left energized after delegations from other cities expressed enthusiasm for what they see as an inclusive coalition of Seattle groups that support HALA, which include urban activists, developers, environmentalists and social justice organizations.

“All these other groups and cities kept telling us, ‘We need to do that work—how did you get all of those people at the table together?’” says Larkin. “It wasn’t the policies [the details of HALA] we came up with, but the relationships that they saw had been built through HALA.”

When you’re in the thick of things in Seattle, it’s hard to see what’s being accomplished here, notes Bernstein. “But when you compare Seattle to other cities, then all of a sudden we look like the success story. I think that there are battles that we’re losing, but we’re winning the war.”

Maxana points to the success of the housing levy, which funds low-income housing and which Seattle voters approved by more than 70 percent in August, as a sign that many Seattleites support the idea of building more housing, including affordable housing. “I see that, and I just have to believe something is clicking,” says Maxana. “And even though you have such a volume of vitriol on [private social media site] Nextdoor and in some of these neighborhood meetings, I think, for the most part, when I look at the city, I see people who want a good place to live not just for themselves, but for their kids and their neighbors.”

Including neighbors they don’t even know yet.

What The Hala?
The proposed Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (HALA), billed as an “action plan to address Seattle’s affordability crisis,” aims to build 50,000 new housing units in the next 20 years, 20,000 of those affordable to people making less than 60 percent of Seattle’s median income ($37,680 for an individual and $53,760 for a family of four*).

To help accomplish this, HALA will: 
Increase the maximum height of new multifamily buildings in multifamily areas and commercial buildings outside downtown, South Lake Union and the University District by 10–20 feet.

Require rental housing developers to make a percentage of the new housing they build affordable to people making less than 60 percent of median income, or pay a fee that will go toward affordable housing elsewhere in Seattle. (Commercial property developers will also have to pay a similar fee.)

Ease restrictions on backyard cottages and mother-in-law apartments in single-family areas, to allow as many as one of each on single-family lots.

Expand the boundaries of urban villages and rezone about 6 percent of Seattle’s single-family areas to allow low-rise multifamily housing in those areas.

Implement anti-displacement strategies in neighborhoods with low-income residents who are especially vulnerable to displacement, and promote homeownership, especially for vulnerable populations.

See a full list of HALA strategies at
* Source: City of Seattle